IWC urges Japan not to kill more whales

The International Whaling Commission urged Japan on Wednesday to drop plans to more than double the number of whales it hunts yearly for scientific research, saying the Japanese do not need to kill whales to study them.

Anti-whaling nations at IWC’s annual meeting took issue with Japan’s announcement earlier this week that it would boost its annual take of minke whales from 440 to as many as 935 next year and kill as many as 50 humpback and fin whales each after a two-year feasibility study.

The nations voted 30-27 for an Australian resolution that said Japan’s plan should be withdrawn unless the new research can be conducted without killing the whales. The resolution also called for a review of the results of the current research program.

Japan says it must kill whales to properly study them, including their stomach contents to glean details of their diets. It then sells the meat, which is allowed under commission rules.

Critics call it commercial whaling in disguise. The United States has criticized the program, arguing that scientific advances allow researchers to adequately study whales while they are still alive. That view was echoed by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“It’s not good science,” Sue Lieberman, director of WWF’s global species program, said after the vote.

Japan’s chief whaling negotiator, Joji Morishita, was upbeat, telling reporters that his delegation was glad to see that 26 other nations supported Japan.

“We are sure that we have a simple majority in the organization,” he said, adding that some small IWC member nations that could not afford to attend the meeting also would have supported Tokyo’s position.

Australia’s motion came a day after the commission resoundingly rejected a proposal to end the nearly two-decade ban on commercial whaling, dealing another blow to Japan, Norway and other pro-whaling nations that say stocks of some species have recovered enough to allow limited hunts.

The IWC banned commercial hunts in 1986 because species were near extinction after centuries of whaling. Norway holds the world’s only commercial whaling season in defiance of the ban.

Japan and other pro-whaling nations knew they had virtually no chance of garnering the three-quarters majority needed to overturn the moratorium at this year’s gathering, which runs through Friday in the South Korean port city of Ulsan.

Still, they were hoping for a simple majority in support of the proposal, which would have indicated that opinion among commission members had turned in favor of supporting commercial whale hunts.

Also Wednesday, the commission rejected a Japanese motion to abolish the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary by a 30-25 vote with two abstentions. That vote also required a three-quarters majority to pass.

Japan maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture.

Conservation groups, including Greenpeace, and countries led by Australia and New Zealand are promoting alternative ways of profiting from whales, such as through tourism and whale-watching.

Japan will probably make another try at next year’s meeting in the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts & Nevis, which has consistently supported Japanese initiatives, Morishita said.

Participation will depend on whether Japanese lawmakers, some of whom have said their nation should bolt the commission, decide its time Japan went its own way, Morishita added.

Source: Kelly Olsen AP